Who: Dolphins (4-3) at Cardinals (5-2)
When: Sunday, November 8, 4:25 EDT
Where: State Farm Stadium – Glendale, Arizona
Weather: 66 degrees, partly cloudy – retractable roof
It's Year 2 for both Brian Flores and Kliff Kingsbury, and while there are similarities in the building process between the two, there are also vast differences.
The Dolphins roster is the NFL's second-youngest team compared to the Cardinals, who have the ninth-oldest squad. Miami's defense is pacing the NFL with a league-low 18.6 points per game allowed while the Arizona offense averages 29.0 points per game, tied for eighth in the league.
Both teams feature young quarterbacks. Tua Tagovailoa will make his second start while Kyler Murray is showcasing his talent two years after going No. 1 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. A byproduct of those quarterbacks and the skills they present: two teams with some of the widest average pre-snap spacing in the NFL. Miami, per NFL Next Gen Stats, goes widest in football at 30.1 yards of average spacing while Arizona is sixth at 27.1 yards.
The Miami defense is playing lights out since the Week 5 game in San Francisco. Since then, the Dolphins are top three in points allowed, sacks, takeaways and third down conversion rate allowed, despite playing only three games in the four-week period.
Slowing down Murray and the Cardinals won't be easy, especially with the home side coming off of a bye week.
Friday Injury Report
Dolphins: Running back Matt Breida (hamstring) is OUT. Cornerback Jamal Perry (foot) is QUESTIONABLE.
Cardinals: Running back Kenyan Drake (ankle) and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (thigh) are OUT. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (hamstring) and linebacker Zeke Turner (toe) are QUESTIONABLE.
To read the rest of the Dolphins-Cardinals final injury report, click here.
Spacing vs. the Blitz
Last week, we highlighted Miami's pre-snap spacing courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats. No team in the NFL has a wider split between the two most-wide players in the offensive formation than the Dolphins. Vance Joseph and the Cardinals defense loves to blitz (fourth-highest blitz rate per Pro Football Reference).
The Rams only blitzed Tagovailoa five times (Pro Football Focus) including the lone touchdown pass of the afternoon.
In that clip, Tagovailoa had a free rusher that he was able to manage with a quick set up and release. His ability to identify the blitz and get the ball out hot against an aggressive defense could go a long way in deciding that matchup.
Outside linebacker Haason Reddick leads the Cardinals with 20 quarterback pressures and five sacks. The former off-ball linebacker is experiencing a career revival in his new role. He primarily lines up off the offense's right side as the left outside linebacker. Reddick has played 209 snaps on passing downs this season with 147 of those coming as a pass rusher, per Pro Football Focus.
Containing the Quarterback Run…and Pass
The Dolphins defense has been swarming quarterbacks early and often in recent weeks. In the first halves of the last three games, Jimmy Garappolo, Joe Flacco and Jared Goff have combined for seven turnovers. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray plays a different style of football with more rushing yards than the aforementioned three combined. Murray's 437 rushing yards lead all NFL quarterbacks (Lamar Jackson second with 411) and he is 14th in rushing regardless of position.
"He's got it all. He's the total package," Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer said. "He's quick, fast and has a strong arm with a quick release."
The Dolphins have speed of their own in the second level to match Murray's quickness. Linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill (4.45), Jerome Baker (4.53) Andrew Van Ginkel (4.59) and Elandon Roberts (4.60) all clocked sub 4.60 40-yard dash times coming out of college.
The total package includes a howitzer of a right arm. Murray ranks 12th in deep passing (PFF) with 417 yards on throws that travel 20 or more air yards. His 127.7 passer rating on such throws is fourth among quarterbacks with at least 10 deep throws.
Miami's pressure packages have generated turnovers, low completion percentages and a league-leading 11.3 points per game allowed over the last three games. Finding a way to make Murray uncomfortable, while hemming the diminutive quarterback inside the pocket, would go a long way towards a fourth consecutive victory.
DeAndre 'Nuk' Hopkins accounts for 31 percent of the Cardinals pass targets (73 of 236). He has nearly double the targets of the team's second-most frequent option in the passing game (Larry Fitzgerald, 37 targets) and is producing at a level commensurate with those targets. Hopkins has 57 receptions for 704 yards and three touchdowns this season. He's catching 78.1 percent of his targets for an average of 9.6 yards per target.
Enter Miami's defensive backfield.
Eric Rowe is tied for the lead among safeties with nine passes defensed. Bobby McCain is playing all over the formation, but doing perhaps his best work over the top. In the last three game, opposing quarterbacks are 0-for-14 when throwing the ball 20 or more yards in the air, per PFF.
In games with both cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard on the field from start to finish (Patriots, 49ers, Jets, Rams), Miami is allowing 13.8 points per game and averaging two takeaways, 5.5 yards per pass and an opposing passer rating of 61.5.
Wide receiver Christian Kirk is averaging 15.4 yards per catch with five receiving touchdowns, and Larry Fitzgerald is second on the team with 29 catches. The matchup of strength-on-strength could play a big role in the outcome of Sunday's game.
More Cardinals Personnel
Star safety Budda Baker is in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year. He won October Defensive Player of the Month and is filling up the stat sheet with two sacks, two interceptions, 59 tackles, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Former Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips signed with the Cardinals this offseason. Phillips is an explosive penetrator – he's fifth on the team with nine quarterback pressures. He trails fellow interior defensive lineman Corey Peters, who is third on the team with 12 pressures.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson is still playing at the level that made him an eight-time Pro Bowler. Per PFF, Peterson is allowing completions on just 56.8 percent of the throws in his direction.
The Cardinals interior offensive line has combined for just 25 quarterback pressures allowed (PFF) through the first seven games, and left tackle D.J. Humphries is Pro Football Focus' 11th-highest graded run-blocking tackle.
"They have a very athletic offensive line that does a good job of working together," Boyer said.
The Cardinals rank eighth in scoring (29.0 points per game) and first in total offense with 419.1 yards per game. Arizona's 160.7 rushing yards per game is second in the NFL and the 258.5 passing yards per game is 14th-best.
There are two teams that frequently call upon 10-personnel (1 RB, 0 TE, 4 WR) in the NFL. The Cardinals have called 10-personnel 101 times and the Buffalo Bills 97 times; the next highest deployment of that four-wide package is Tampa Bay with 36 plays. Arizona uses its depth at receiver and spacing to take advantage of both Murray's electric rushing threat and high-velocity arm.
Defensively, few teams turn up the heat with the frequency of the Cardinals. Arizona sends an extra rusher on 38.6 percent of their defensive snaps, per Pro Football Reference, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. As a result, Arizona is top 10 in sacks (19), knockdown percentage (8.9), and pressure rate (23.5).
Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph pairs his pressure packages with one of the league's most-frequent four defensive back deployment. Arizona goes with four in the secondary on 34 percent of the defensive snaps, seventh-most in the NFL.
Arizona is ninth in scoring (20.9 points per game) and tied for 22nd in total defense (378.4 yards per game). The Cardinals rush defense ranks 25th (131.1 yards allowed per game) and the passing defense is 18th (247.3 yards allowed per game).
Final Thoughts and Game Notes
The Dolphins lead the all-time series over Arizona 9-3 including a last-second win in the last meeting in 2016.
Miami's 144 total first downs through seven games is the franchise's most through the first seven games since 2014 (150).
In his last 16 games (since Week 9 of 2019), DeVante Parker is tied for ninth in the NFL in receiving touchdowns with nine, and sixth in the league with 1,226 receiving yards.
Tight end Mike Gesicki ranks fifth among NFL tight ends with 298 receiving yards and the Miami offensive line has allowed only 11 sacks this season, ninth-fewest in the NFL.
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is sixth in the NFL in sacks (6.0) and fifth among edge defenders with 32 quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus. His six sacks in the first seven games of his Dolphins career are the most by a Dolphin in their first seven games since Danny Stubbs in 1996.
Punter Matt Haack's 40.2 career net punting average is the best in franchise history and kicker Jason Sanders' 86.2 career field goal percentage (56-of-65) is also the best mark in team history.
West coast travel means a late kickoff, so we'll bring you post-game coverage in the late hours Sunday night. As always, we'll have the recap story and Sunday spotlight on MiamiDolphins.com and Drive Time with Travis Wingfield to cover the game in podcast form.